Forget sticks and stones: Language is powerful. Ash Beckham argues that if we want to build better communities for all stakeholders, it’s vital to frame our language around inclusion and empathy. It’s not simply about a judicious selection of vocabulary. It’s thoughtfulness and respect for individuals as human beings.
Ash Beckham: When people are using the word, "gay" in any social context I think that it’s really important to figure out the intent of what they’re saying. A huge part of people being in the closet for so long was because nobody wanted to utter those words and I think that there is — when it’s used in an appropriate way, there’s a really strong sense of pride and identity that comes with that and I think that that’s really important. If it’s ever, you know, ranking something or speaking of something negatively or putting it down a peg or down a notch, that’s when there’s just other words to use. There’s better words to use that don’t carry that weight to people in the room. And you might not even know who those people are. You might not even know how that word affects somebody. You could be talking about their mom or their aunt or their dad. We hold each other accountable to not use those words because then it conveys the sentiment that gay is less than.
Empathy is such a critical part of this in creating empathetic communities, specifically in schools but in other places — in your community, in your place of worship, in your house. We need to create these empathetic environments. And the way that we create empathy is by sharing our stories. And the way that you have that conversation about those words, you know, "gay" being used in a negative way. People don’t respond to no you shouldn’t say that. They really respond to when you say that it makes me feel dot, dot, dot. And there’s something incredibly vulnerable about that, especially around the word "gay." Sometimes that’s kids outing themselves when they don’t necessarily want to which is such a huge role for allies to be able to stand up and say, "That word’s not okay because it makes me feel dot, dot, dot. Not because I’m gay, but because I have friends that are gay and you’re speaking of them in a pejorative way or you’re putting them as a negative connotation to something that they use as a prideful descriptor." You know, there comes a point if you are transgender and you insist that your uncle, you know, everybody’s got like a crazy uncle. Mine is Uncle George. He’s crazy. Like you never know what he’s going to say. But you give him the benefit of the doubt and you expect that he will be better at that. But if after you approach him and say hey, you know, the gay jokes aren’t funny or I’ve asked you to use my preferred pronoun and you’re just not. Like I think there’s a part of intention to assume that, you know, somebody without a tremendous amount of background in it is going to be able to, you know, by choice switch the pronoun that they’ve called somebody for 25 years. I don’t think it’s a fair expectation.
It took us a while to figure out that we were gay and to come to terms with that and handle that and be able to say that out loud. We have to give people in our lives that we care about that permission to do the same thing. But after a certain amount of time, if there’s no remorse or I mean I think especially with people that we’re close to we really — you can tell when someone’s trying or if they’re stumbling or if they’re not. So I think we give them the benefit of the doubt as long as it feels right to us and that relationship is still important. But when we come to the realization that they actually are not trying and not trying to be educated and not having those conversations, then maybe they can’t change or maybe there’s a way to employ other family members or allies or friends to go in and have that conversation in a better way. But, you know, I don’t — there’s so many people in the world that are putting out positive energy and that, you know, you’re going to get so much farther. And if you need to let somebody go because of their inability to try to change with you and be respectful of you that’s just kind of the way it goes sometimes which is hard I think. Obviously especially if it’s family members, but, you know, no one has the right to stop you from being you and from respecting you and you need to hold people to that.